Despite the heat during the day, there was a chill to the air once the sun had set. Tavia had changed from her shorts and t-shirt into something warmer. The pants and thin jacket were enough to keep out the cold as she and Evos waited behind RIOAR. The front doors leading to the former lobby were still sealed off, so she had headed for the side entrance she and Izak had used earlier that day. Izak and Audri were supposed to meet her here, but Tavia was early. She had needed to get out of the house while she could, even if that meant she had to wait for them.
She waited across the street outside the cafe where she had a good view of the entrance; she didn't want to miss when the others arrived.
After she had agreed to help, and Audri had convinced Izak, Abram had asked them to meet him after hours at the institute. He claimed to have a lot to catch up on, and though that was probably true, Tavia wasn't sure she believed that was his only reason for having them wait until no one was around. According to what he had said earlier, the institute was supposed to be shut down at night. That at least seemed to be true, no matter how long she sat in the stiff metal chairs at one of the cafe's tables, she didn't see a single person enter or leave.
And so Tavia waited, a mug of tea ordered from the cafe sitting on the table before her being victimized by her nervous grip. What was she doing here?
Evos waited with her, wearing the same thing he had been wearing since she'd met him; a pair of white slacks and a white shirt. She hadn't paid much attention to his clothes before—they just seemed to...blend in, as if they were a part of him. Maybe they were. The clothes appeared when he transformed, did that mean he was stuck wearing those obscenely white clothes, or could change he change clothes like a normal person?
"Are you cold?" Tavia asked.
Evos looked a little surprised at the question, but then he shrugged.
"I don't really feel the cold," he said. "I'm aware of it, but not affected by it."
Well, that was interesting, but it hadn't given her the information she was looking for. Tavia scowled. She wanted to ask, but couldn't find a way that wasn't weird. Evos watched her expression change and then laughed, the sound carrying through the late night. There wasn't anyone around; it was well past the time when most people would be asleep, and Tavia had only just managed to sneak out of the house herself without being caught by a nosy servant.
"You can just ask," he said. "I'm not going to be upset by anything you ask."
Tavia doubted that, but hey, if he said to go for it, who was she not to listen?
"Can you change clothes?" she asked. "How does that even work?"
"I can," he said. "But it's a little more complicated than it is for you. My body uses the matter that makes up the sword and changes the density of the alther to mimic a human body, while using Althier to...fill in the gaps. It's not a very strong body, but I have a real physical presence." He reached out and pulled the mug from her hands, freeing it from the torture Tavia had been subjecting it to. "Which means I could change clothes normally, but those clothes would get left behind when I returned to being the Ageless Sword, or I can change the appearance of these clothes by altering the Althier composition, but that takes more Althier and," he pushed the mug back into her hands, "I don't really have any to spare at the moment."
His explanation answered the question, but really it just raised far more. He had changed the density of the sword? If she remembered correctly, density was just something that determined how much Althier a material could absorb? High density materials like alther could absorb high amounts of Althier, but low density, like humans, could only handle a small amount. What did that have to do with making a human form? That probably fell into the realm of things he didn't know though.
"So, since you can do all these things on your own, why do you even need someone to...use you?" Tavia asked.
Evos stared at Tavia, his silver eyes glowing in the darkness, but if he was making some kind of expression, it was too difficult to see.
"I forgot, you don't really have much experience in actually using Artifacts," he said.
Tavia didn't reply to that, he was right after all, or actually rather than saying "much experience" it would be better to say "no experience." After a small pause he continued as if he had never been waiting for her to say anything.
"You know Auras are used for more than just activating Artifacts, right?" he asked. "Humans gather Althier, and use the aura like a funnel to channel it into an Artifact, or one of those devices I've seen everywhere. The aura also protects the body from the effects of Althier, otherwise after only a small amount of channeling Althier, the person would succumb to Althier poisoning."
Evos paused in his explanation and peered at Tavia. She stared back. Did he think she wasn't listening.
"Didn't anyone ever explain this to you?" he asked.
"Probably," Tavia said with a shrug. "Probably back when I was little though. I don't think anyone saw a point in making sure I understood once they realized I don't have an aura."
There had been something similar, in the lab. The Artificers there had tried to teach her, but they hadn't used simple terms like channeling. They had used their own jargon that Tavia had never really grasped. Either way, it wasn't something she had ever been able to do, so she had soon forgotten it.
"I think you went to school though. That's something people your age do, correct? Don't they teach all of this there?"
Tavia made a face at his words. He looked barely older than her, so why did he sound like an old man?
"My parents hired private tutors," she explained. "It was uh...decided that I should be kept home as much as possible. Better than exposing me to the cruelties of children my age, though they just didn't want people to know about me. That means they set the curriculum, and I didn't learn anything they didn't think would be useful to me."
"I see," Evos said in an unreadable tone. He looked away from her, focusing on the institute across the street. "Well, either way, unless someone channels Althier into the sword, I won't be able to operate."
That made sense. Except that it also made no sense at all. When had Tavia channeled any Althier into the Ageless Sword? She was sure that was something she would remember.
"I never did that, though," she said.
"You don't remember?" he asked. "The first time you touched me. You channeled then, and you also channeled when you Jumped on the stairs. It was only for a moment each time, but that was enough."
Had there been anything like that? Tavia had been pretty distracted both times, the first time because of the imminent danger presented by Ikarios, and the second time because her argument with Septia had been at the front of her mind.
"Is that something I can do while distracted?" Tavia asked.
Evos shrugged. "I've never channeled before, so I can't really tell you for sure."
"Well, that's helpf—did you see that?"
Something—no someone—had been moving in the darkness across the street, and if Tavia wasn't mistaken, the figure she had seen was small and dark. Whoever it was, they were approaching the entrance to RIOAR without any hesitation.
"See what?" Evos asked.
Tavia continued to watch, and she lifted her hand to point in the direction of the shadow. Evos's eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the figure, his shoulders drawing together and his brow tightening.
"Is that who I think it is?" she asked.
"Ikarios," Evos hissed. "Just what is he planning?"